Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE)

The Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) grew out of the University’s long, rich history of community involvement. Prior to the creation of the CCE, the University connected to the community in a variety of ways, including:

  • The Bonner Scholars Program which provided scholarships to students involved in community service

  • The Chaplaincy’s Center for Faith and Service which coordinated specific service projects such as Habitat for Humanity house builds

  • Service-learning and other community-based learning courses such as those offered by the Jepson School of Leadership Studies

  • The many programs and courses offered to members of the community through the School of Professional and Continuing Studies

As the University entered the 21st century, however, the desire for a more intentional, integrated, cross-campus approach to community engagement grew. In August 2002 the Community Relations Task Force called for the creation of a center to coordinate campus-community engagement.

In 2003, Dr. Douglas A. Hicks, associate professor of leadership studies and religion, chaired a faculty committee charged with developing a plan for a center. This plan became reality when, with generous funding from the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation, the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement launched in August 2004 with Hicks serving as the founding director.

The CCE grew significantly in the ensuing years, expanding its network to engage many more students, faculty, and community partners in meaningful civic work and thoughtful dialogue about pressing social issues. The opening of the University of Richmond Downtown in 2009 at the corner of 7th and Broad streets is but one example of the many ways the CCE advances campus-community interactions.


The Bonner Center for Civic Engagement transforms student learning, deepens faculty engagement, and partners with community organizations for social change. We do this by connecting UR and Richmond communities in collaborative and sustained partnerships. Through courses, research projects, volunteerism, fellowships, discussion series, and reflection we bring students, faculty, staff and community partners together to explore educationally meaningful approaches to community-identified needs. Our collaborative work brings life to learning.

University of Richmond Downtown (UR Downtown)

An innovative resource for engaging and educating, UR Downtown enables all academic departments, offices, and programs of the University of Richmond to connect with the Greater Richmond community.

UR Downtown combines the time and talent of students, faculty, and staff with that of the community to provide a range of programs. It houses the Wilton Companies Gallery and hosts special concerts, lectures, performances, and community meetings.

UR Downtown is home to four programs of the University’s Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, School of Law, and School of Professional & Continuing Studies:

  • The Richmond Families Initiative (RFI), an issue-based program focused on children and families, connects UR and community resources in order to build our region’s capacity to support families and children

  • The Harry L. Carrico Center for Pro Bono Service connects the skills and talents of law students with the Greater Richmond community and a network of regional and national pro bono programs

  • The Jeanette S. Lipman Family Law Clinic, a partnership with Virginia Commonwealth University, provides local families with direct legal assistance in family law matters and complementary social work services

  • Partners in the Arts (PIA) is an educational program that serves K–12 teachers in the Richmond area by providing arts integration training and by funding projects that use the arts to teach across the K–12 curriculum

In addition to housing these four programs, UR Downtown offers the University and the community a state-of-the-art, multipurpose facility conveniently located in the heart of the city. In spring 2012, the MetroCASH Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Site (VITA), opened at UR Downtown in which students, faculty and staff assisted eligible residents with completing tax returns.

Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation

The story of the Foundation is the story of Bertram and Corella Bonner and their desire to “give back to the Lord what the Lord has given [them].” Both Bertram and Corella Bonner’s personal journeys played a significant role in the development and direction of the Foundation.

In the words of Bertram Bonner, he was born “without a dime” in 1899 in Brooklyn, New York. At the early age of 22, after putting himself through college at night, Mr. Bonner was named Head Treasurer for Heda Green Banks. He had been working with Ms. Green since the beginning of his teenage years and had learned much from the eccentric and well-known woman. As Head Treasurer, he made many loans to New York builders, which inspired him to become involved in the real estate business. He was successful from the beginning but in the stock market crash of ’29, like so many others, he lost everything.

But, unlike others, with hard work and a tremendous acumen for business, Mr. Bonner quickly made back his fortune. His career spanned six decades and he built more than 30,000 homes and apartments.

Corella Bonner, like her husband, was born into poverty. However, she began her journey in the rural south – the town of Eagan, TN. At fourteen, after living in coal-mining towns in West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, Corella Allen, along with her mother, sought opportunity in the northern city of Detroit. Arriving penniless, the young Allen soon found work as a cashier at a cafeteria, attended Wayne State University at night, and made sure that her younger siblings went to school. She worked her way up from cashier to manager and was eventually transferred to the Statler chain’s New York hotel. It was there that she met Bertram Bonner whom she married in 1942.

The Bonners’ desire to be involved with community engagement efforts emanated from their early work providing food for destitute families in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where the Bonner family lived. When the Bonners moved in 1956 to Princeton, NJ they began a broad-based ecumenical crisis ministry program housed in the Nassau Presbyterian Church.  Mr. Bonner passed away in May of 1993. Mrs. Bonner carried on their legacy of hope, service, and gratitude until her passing in July of 2002.

Bonner Foundation Creation

Since it was activated in 1989, the Foundation has become one of the nation’s largest privately-funded service scholarship programs and a philanthropic leader in the anti-hunger movement. Through sustained partnerships with colleges and congregations, the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation seeks to improve the lives of individuals and communities by helping meet the basic needs of nutrition and educational opportunity.

The Foundation addresses its mission with two major programs: Bonner Scholars and Crisis Ministry. The Crisis Ministry Program concentrates its efforts in central New Jersey with support for 25 community-based and educational institutions combating poverty, especially in the area of hunger. Beginning at Berea College in the Fall of 1990, the Foundation began supporting a four-year, service-based college scholarship program. It has become a nationally recognized service scholarship model.

At twenty-seven colleges and universities, the Bonner Scholar Program provides scholarships to students who need financial assistance and who have a commitment to strengthening their communities through service. Seven of those institutions were awarded a $5 million endowment to carry out the Bonner Scholars Program. The University of Richmond is one of the endowed schools.

Bonner Foundation Funding

Since its inception, the Bonner Foundation has awarded more than $86 million in annual grants and another $85 million in Bonner Program Endowment awards to 20 participating colleges and universities (which have a current market value of more than $162 million).  The Foundation has lead a number of Federally-funded higher education consortium grants, including: a) four Learn & Serve America grants (three for community-based research and one for social media), b) three FIPSE grants (including one to establish civic engagement certificates, concentrations or minors), and c) more than ten years of national and State AmeriCorps grants (that support more than 1,000 members annually).

Bonner Scholars Program (BSP)

In 1990, the Bonner Foundation established the first BSP at Berea College. Designed to provide students with “access to education and an opportunity to serve,” the Program has grown to become the largest privately-funded, service-based college scholarship program in the country, supporting 1,600 active students on twenty-seven campuses in twelve states in the Southeast and Midwest.

The scholarship primarily serves students who have high financial need and a commitment to service. It is designed to heighten students’ overall education by affording these students an opportunity to participate in sustained community engagement during their four years of undergraduate education. The program helps the students develop the skills and knowledge necessary to make their service meaningful and lasting.

The pilot BSP began at Berea College in Kentucky during the 1990-91 academic year. In each of the next two years, the Foundation added eleven campuses. Two additional institutions were added in 1999, bringing the BSP to twenty-seven institutions. Once the operational framework was put in place at these schools, the Bonner Foundation then endowed the BSP at seven of these schools.

On each campus are full-time professional staff who direct and coordinate the BSP, which is integrated into campus-wide community engagement initiatives. These staff work with students to provide training and reflection opportunities, to ensure quality service placements, to serve as a liaison between the community organizations and the campus, and to prepare and support campus involvement in community endeavors.

Scholars are asked to commit ten hours each week to community engagement activities and 280 hours during two summers. It is this intensity of commitment — the four-year nature of the Program and the large number of students involved on each campus — that makes the Program both distinctive and transformative.

In 1997, the Bonner Foundation began an effort to expand the Bonner Scholars Program model of service-based scholarships by creating the Bonner Leaders Program. Through several grants, the Foundation partnered with institutions who were interested in expanding the Bonner Scholars Program or in creating a service-based scholarship program on their campus. Together, funds from federal work study (FWS), AmeriCorps education awards, AmeriCorps stipends, and individual institutions were used to create scholarship stipends for students who complete community service each week during their term of service.

Today, the Foundation currently works with more than sixty institutions that have created Bonner Leaders Programs. Each of these campuses has a core group of five-to-thirty students who commit to completing the required hours of community service during their term. The Bonner Foundation seeks to expand the Bonner Leaders Program on individual campuses and through local, state, or regional campus consortiums.

Having a large cadre of involved, informed, and energetic students on a campus allows for a large multiplier effect to occur. Bonner Scholars/Leaders have had an enormous impact on the culture of their institutions. For example, they have initiated service days and support groups, assisted in the founding of new soup kitchens, developed literacy programs, organized large alternative break trips, and served as board members of local non-profits.

Bonner Scholars/Leaders emerge from their college experience with a greater understanding of communities and the problems that exist within them, as well as the skills and commitment to be effective in community problem-solving efforts.  Not surprisingly, they remain involved in service no matter what path they pursue professionally.

Bonner Action Group (BAG)

The Bonner Action Group is composed of senior interns, 2 Bonner Congress representatives, and 6 class representatives (2 per class except the senior class).

Senior Interns

Senior interns plan and facilitate all BSP programming, serve as class advisors, and manage independent projects.

Bonner Congress Representatives

Bonner Congress representatives represent UR Bonners to the national Bonner network. Each year, in conjunction with BSP staff, they plan and carry out one “Big Idea.” They serve two year terms.

Class Representatives

Two class representatives per class (with the exception of seniors) liaise between their class, BSP staff, and new Bonners. They are responsible for planning cornerstones, facilitating class meetings, and planning 1-2 community building activities for their class per year.


The University of Richmond Bonner Scholar Program is staffed by a director, coordinator, and administrative coordinator.

Heather Ashton

Administrative coordinator, Bonner Scholars Program


(804) 484-1630

Heather Ashton earned a B.S. in anthropology with a minor in environmental studies from the College of Charleston. Prior to joining the CCE staff, Heather was a social worker who focused on assisting families experiencing homelessness. She also has experience working as an environmental scientist for a local environmental company.

Bryan Figura

Director, Bonner Scholars Program


(804) 484-1631

Bryan Figura earned a B.A. with honors in English, a minor in history, and a Virginia teaching license from Longwood University. Bryan also holds an M.A. in college student personnel from Bowling Green University where he served as coordinator of leadership for Greek affairs and as house director for Phi Kappa Tau.

Prior to joining the CCE in August 2008, he taught middle school English and history at P.S. 860 in Harlem for several years.

Blake Stack

Coordinator, Bonner Scholars Program


(804) 484-1632

Before joining the University, Blake worked with various nonprofit organizations serving in the areas of youth mentorship and community development. Most recently, he served with Boaz & Ruth, a community partner of the CCE’s, as a volunteer coordinator in the Highland Park neighborhood in Richmond’s Northside.

In 2005, Blake graduated from Cairn University with a B.S. in business administration and a B.S. in biblical studies.